Sir Denis Rooke Memorial Lecture 2019

SDR Lecture 2019_Judith Hackitt

Taking the blinkers off

Having chaired the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt delivered this year’s Sir Rooke Memorial Lecture, in which she spoke about the need for us all to learn lessons and share knowledge following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, in July 2017. Simon Trollope, IGEM Head of Development and Knowledge Delivery, reports. 

IGEM’S CEO Neil Atkinson proudly introduced Dame Judith Hackitt to the stage at London’s No 11 Cavendish Square (home of the King’s Fund) to present this year’s Sir Denis Rooke Memorial Lecture. 

Dame Judith has many years’ experience working as an engineer in a highly regulated environment as well as a decade spent as leader of the Health and Safety Executive. Following the tragic events of Grenfell Tower, she was asked by government ministers to lead the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, which made its final recommendations to government in May 2018. 

Dame Judith opened by speaking about her career to date and how her experience, independence and objectivity led her to being asked to chair the review. The focus of the review was to have a broader remit to look at the regulatory system for high rise residential buildings (HRRBs). This was made all the more complex due to the other reviews and processes taking place at the time, including the expert panel and public inquiry into Grenfell. 

After agreeing the terms of reference in August 2017, the review published its interim report in the December and its final report in May 2018. In December 2018, the government announced that all 53 recommendations in the report would be implemented in full. This was crucial, said Dame Judith, as her report had asked the government not to “cherry pick” the easier things to do and “should only accept all of the recommendations if we were to make a difference”. 

Dame Judith outlined that the system was clearly broken and not fit for purpose and outlined how there appeared to be a race to the bottom with significant evidence of gaming the system. The guidance at the time was prescriptive but siloed, confusing and inconsistent. It was evident, she said, that “design, change management and record keeping was poor, both during construction, occupation and refurbishment.” 

Of great concern to the review team was the fact that residents were not being listened to and had no reliable means of recourse. She went on to say that the lens of the consumer was critical to their review. 

Dame Judith then outlined the key recommendations of the review, which included a fundamental reform of the whole system. There was a need for clear accountability for clients, designers and contractors during construction, she said. One of the key recommendations was for a stronger regulator with a Joint Competent Authority comprising local authorities, building control, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. “The regulator must hold duty holders to account to deliver and maintain safe buildings,” she added. 

The review also recommended the implementation of the principles of a safety case regime for high rise complex buildings. The challenge to industry was to lead on strengthening the competence of professionals and to set out a credible proposal on how to do this within a year. 

Dame Judith concluded that the UK was dealing with several systemic failures: a failure to maintain the integrity and coherence of the regulatory system; a failure to regard high rise buildings as complex systems/processes and a failure to learn lessons and translate them across sectors in a systematic way. 

The failure to learn, share knowledge and look beyond your own disciplinary boundary is a major concern, she said. There is a clear need for significant culture change in the construction industry and also the need to rethink the way we train and recognise professional skills and competences across disciplines, she added. 

IGEM President, Steve Edwards thanked Dame Judith for her lecture, saying: “It has been a privilege to listen to your findings and experiences, which will benefit every person in this room.” 

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